Friday, September 25, 2009


The occasional breathtaking single aside ("Vision Of Love," "Fantasy," "We Belong Together"), it took me forever to get into Mariah Carey more than one song at a time. But nearly two decades into her career, my love is for real. Part of it has to do with leftover affection from my 2002 post-breakdown interview with the singer for an Us Weekly cover story. She had me at hello, thanks to her flawless make up and hoodie buttoned down to there to reveal exactly one-third of a perfectly rounded bosom.

In person, I found her to be unexpectedly funny, clever and warm. Seriously, it was admiration, if not exactly love, at first sight. The rest came afterwards. When she released her 11th studio album, last year's E=MC2, I was finally able to listen to a Mariah record front to back without nodding off half a dozen times. E=MC2 was, as they say, da bomb -- and the No. 1 "Touch My Body" excepted, sort of a bomb.

But I knew Mariah was repeating herself. And here she goes again. Listening to her latest, Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel, I can't help but think that she has been making the same album for at least three albums now. One more time, she emphasizes style and attitude over songs and substance, which makes for an infinitely enjoyable sonic experience (I'll be loving it long time indeed), but it's no classic in the making.

Aside from a glimmers of rarely tapped soulfulness on "It's A Wrap" (on which she continues to exhibit her extreme verbosity and unique way with words, actually dropping "denominator" and "acquiescent" into the lyrical mix), every track on Memoirs could have been on E=MC2 or that album's predecessor, The Emancipation Of Mimi. Even her billionth Top 10 single, the Eminem dis "Obsessed," is recycled; she's been there, done that, with "Clown," from 2002's Charmbracelet. And she's included at least one ride-the-beat Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony-inspired vocal, this time "Up Out My Face," on practically every album since "Breakdown," a collaboration with B-T-N-H from 1997's Butterfly. The latest is a standout nonetheless (listen below). On the plus side, there are no guest rappers, making Memoirs 100 percent Mariah. Also, although the Foreigner original will always be the definitive version, her cover of "I Want To Know What Love Is" is a lot better in execution than it is in theory.

Next time, I'd like to see Mariah break out the test tubes. Though it makes her virtually indistinguishable from, say, Ciara, I'm probably one of the few people who doesn't mind her cooing in a breathy lower register as opposed to raising the roof with those bird calls that dominated her early albums (don't worry, there are plenty of glass-shattering mini-arias here, especially on "Angel"). But it's time for Mariah to let go of all those on-the-verge-of-being-overused R&B producers (in this case, Tricky Stewart and The-Dream) and seek out someone from another genre. I'd like to see her go in a totally different direction and collaborate with someone like a Mark Ronson, or Linda Perry, who already has been all over the charts but could possibly help her craft a fresh new sound.

Maybe that's asking for too much right now. Deglamming for her supporting role in the much-buzzed-about feature film Precious is already generating unprecedented Oscar talk for Mariah (as in a nomination, not the actual prize, which is probably costar Mo'Nique's to lose). If the Oscar hype comes true, maybe it will give Mariah the confidence to get off the beaten track in her music career, and stumble, fall or maybe rise to new creative heights.

Mariah Carey "Up Out My Face"

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